My work is excellent when it is effective. I have always identified as a contemporary dance maker/ performance maker. My dances are intended to effect transformational changes in the spaces within which they are performed and the people present. My ideas of effect and change are derivative conceptually of a traditionally West African and African diaspora use of dance in ritual-in events that alter the way that a gathered community perceives reality. Like any member of a diaspora the ingredients I have available are not the same as those my ancestors had. Time and experience across generations and multiple narratives has shifted our context, our tools, our languages. So while I have studied many traditional forms I make work that is threaded together by a conceptual framework. The use of identifiable dance languages, performance locations with specific histories and shared significances establishes a “hook” - a common anchor between the work and its audiences. The dance is successful and demonstrates its excellence when in performance that “hook” effectively pulls us collectively into a shared experience that transcends the ordinary and reorders and reimagines our individual and collective state of being within the context of the established conceptual framework. After Project Tool performances, various audience members came back to us with altered ideas around agency, the built environment, Afro-feminism, ancestry and the presence of ancestors. Beyond the performance – audience relationship we are also very proud that through our partnership the Sweet Water Foundation a whole library of hexagonal modular dance floor surfaces are available and being used in southside Chicago right now. And performances beyond our dreams are supported in the fractal, extending rhythms of being and presence that represent in physical and infrastructure the rhythms and patterns of our afro-diasporic existential and spiritual reality. WE are manifest. Iteratively and sustainably HERE.
I represent multiple non-white, non-male identities and when my work is funded it brings those black, female, immigrant, single mother, bi-cultural, trans-national perspectives that I house in my being and in the forms and methodologies in my aesthetics and practices to the field. Beyond that the real value of diversity is the high effect juxtaposition of cultures, values, tools, and existential assumptions that can be brought into the center of this current societal moment. Just as important as giving access to resources to people who have historically been excluded is giving those who have done the exclusion relief from their isolation.
Chained to an ancient idea
She took the tool into her hand
And began her meticulous labor
To shape a thing
According to the colors
In one’s head
We give without asking
The way a mother might
Braid her child’s hair
Thinking of vines
Of her childhood home
The plant she can no longer name
And like plow to earth
A mouth-full of singing
And the bird floating in the tree
Eyes fixed on the pistil of the bloom
She can see the way the bird
The way her own body
Sinks into the earth
With a certain kind of pain
As if the soil were made
From fragments of home
To say that this is timeless
Is not to understand
The way time is both fixed
She is a mirror of herself
Hunched in a furrow of forgetfulness
Traded on the land by sweat and burn.
Forget me, she says,
Forget that my body ever rose on this earth
But the bird in the tree keeps peering
Keeps tipping its wings in a distant direction
As if there and here
Were always the same
As if one blanket could cover
The beds of millions.
Written by Matthew Shenoda
Tara Belkin, Producer and Co-Writer; Justin Shipley, Director and Cinematographer; Steven A. Brandt and Kathryn Weedman, Co-Writers and Consultants. (26:37 min.)
WOMAN THE TOOLMAKER portrays the remarkable lives of a group of Konso hide workers from southern Ethiopia who may be the last people in the world to make and use flaked stone tools on a regular basis. Unlike the “Man the Toolmaker” stereotype, virtually all of the Konso hide workers are women who as young girls learn flintknapping skills from their mothers or other female relatives. The complete life cycle of making and using flaked stone artifacts is documented in this ethnoarchaeological portrait of Konso women scraping hides to produce soft leather products for bedding, bags, drums, and even ritual clothing. The hide workers use quartz, quartz crystal, chalcedony, and chert collected from dry river beds, eroding hillsides, and abandoned hideworker households to manufacture scrapers from cores by the direct percussion and bipolar techniques. Using a gum-like resin obtained from local trees, the scrapers are secured in the open haft of a wooden handle. The handles are then used to scrape cow, goat, sheep and occasionally wild animal hides until the inner fat is removed and the hides become soft and pliable. Heat-treating, resharpening, recycling, and discarding are also clearly depicted in the film. Woman the Toolmaker places stone tool making and hide working in their social and economic contexts, and speaks particularly to the importance of women’s roles in past and present societies. This unique video is an excellent addition to both undergraduate and graduate courses in anthropology, archaeology, and women’s studies, including material culture, technology, methods, and ethnography.
Tara Belkin: Director, Cinematographer and Co-Writer; Steven A. Brandt: Co-Writer and Consultant (25:05 min.)
This award-winning ethnographic film documents pottery production and use at Buur Heybe, "The Hill of the Potter's Sand", in southern Somalia. The Potters of Buur Heybe portrays the complete life cycle of earthenware pottery manufacture and use, places the pottery in its social and economic context, and considers the roles of gender, symbolism, agency and religion in the process. Although oral tradition credits women for first discovering the natural qualities of the highly valued local clay, it is only the men who create the wide range of beautifully decorated drinking, cooking and storage vessels. Women quarry and transport the clay to the village where men make and decorate the vessels using the coil method on a foot-turned wooden plate. The pots are fired in open air pyres, and distributed both locally and regionally where they are used, recycled and discarded by farmers, pastoralists, and townspeople. Short, technologically fascinating, and ethnographically rich, Potters of Buur Heybe is an excellent film for both undergraduate and graduate courses in anthropology and archaeology, including methods, technology, material culture, ethnography, and arts.
I wield a tool in hand
It has a handle
It has a blade
It has a length
It has a weight
As do I
To apply my tool
Impact producing designed result
Am responsible for awareness
Relationship to tool
The primary relationship is to self
Then self to tool
Then tool to impact
My body is the extension of my body
To beyond my self
I time travel
From when they procreated
To speak to my ancestor
If only to affirm my suspicions
And carry on
Keywords/connections: embodied cognition, memory, ancestry, “tool as extension of body,” body cognition, procedural memory, “New Orleans as part of Caribbean,” rebuilding New Orleans and Chicago, New Orleans-Haiti-Chicago, “urban resilience,” Dawoud Bey’s photography “Night Come Tenderly, Black, (panel discussion featuring Bey and others), ancestral dances (i.e. farming, masquerade), Amanda William’s “Color(ed) Theory,” Henry Drewel’s research on senses and colors, chain gang, work and production, ancestor ritual (i.e. tools as way to communicate with ancestors, to create ongoing engagement with ancestors), Chinese dragon dance and collectivism
The Black Quantum Futurism - "Black Womxn Temporal" project
Via Boyer College
Project Tool: The Infrastructure of an Ancestral Practice
Project Tool is a dance performance installation in which Ozuzu has been building a collection of sprung wood dance floors with a team of collaborators. What is learned physically, emotionally, and conceptually in the process of building has become the material used to craft the performance. This project stems from Ozuzu’s fascination with the inter-relationships between body, task, and tool. The act of building this floor explores the use of tools as if they are partners in a dance with the body. This project carries on through the bodies of project participants through the skills and know-how to make the floors upon which we dance and the opportunity to channel that practicality into our artistic practices. Project Tool offers us the opportunity to stand strong in the embodied fact that we can literally build our own platforms.
Onye Ozuzu is a performing artist, choreographer, administrator, educator and researcher currently serving as the Dean of the College of the Arts at the University of Florida. Since 1997, Onye has been presenting choreographic work nationally and internationally at venues such as Seattle Festival of Improvisational Dance (WA), Kaay Fecc Festival Des Tous les Danses (Dakar, Senegal), La Festival del Caribe (Santiago, Cuba), Lisner Auditorium (Washington, D.C.), McKenna Museum of African American Art (New Orleans, LA), and danceGATHERING (Lagos, Nigeria). Recent work includes “Touch My Beloved’s Thought,” a collaboration with composer Greg Ward and “Project Tool,” a work supported by the Joyce Foundation, Chicago Dancemakers Forum, and the National Performance Network Creation Fund. She facilitates work in a group improvisational score, The Technology of the Circle.
Why is the image of an environmentally conscious African-American still hard for us to picture?
(Via The New York Times)
As an African-American, John Boyd Jr. might not be what Americans imagine when they think of a typical farmer. But Boyd has been farming his entire life, like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather before him. He grows wheat, corn and soybeans and has cattle at his southwestern Virginia farm. (Via NPR.org)
The most important set of genetic instructions we all get comes from our DNA, passed down through generations. But the environment we live in can make genetic changes, too. See More.